September 4, 2020, 12:09 am
The excitement in the NBA never ends so let’s dive right into Thursday’s big stories from both in and outside the bubble. The day got going bright and early with some shocking off-court news with the Brooklyn Nets announcing Steve Nash as their new head coach, yes, Steve Nash. On the court we are down to the final eight teams so as the quantity of play dips, the quality is on the rise. Toronto needed a miracle to stay off the brink of elimination, and they got it. Shortly after the Clippers cleaned up the Nuggets with relative ease.
Nash to Brooklyn
Moves are starting to be made now that more head coaching opportunities have begun opening around the league as teams have been getting bounced from the bubble. The Knicks made the first move officially signing Tom Thibodeau and the general thought is once the first domino falls, the others will fall into place shortly after, leaving franchises wanting to make a final decision and lock down their guy sooner rather than later. The Nets could have waited until the night before their first game of the 2020-21 season and I think they still could have come away with Steve Nash. The signing comes completely out of left field and it seems as if just about everyone was just as surprised as I was. Less than 48 hours ago Shams Charania of The Athletic reported interim head coach Jaque Vaughn had completed his interviews with the team and “impressed ownership”. In addition to Vaughn, Los Angeles Lakers assistant Jason Kidd, Philadelphia 76ers assistant Ime Udoka, LA Clippers assistant Ty Lue and former Rockets and Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy were reportedly all in the running for the job. A long shot candidate in Gregg Popovich had even been mentioned multiple times. Per Nash’s request, Vaughn will stay on Brooklyn’s staff as an assistant. The two-time MVP, Nash, signed a four-year deal early Thursday and is set to lead the star-studded Nets for the foreseeable future. Bringing in a former player, with no coaching experience, has lead to varying results with coaches such as Doc Rivers putting together a very successful 20-year career, but on the other end of the spectrum we have examples like Derek Fisher who was sent packing from the Knicks within two years. This will be no easy task for the Hall of Fame point guard and there will be no time for a learning curve with Brooklyn’s championship window being open right now. The decision came with a heavy influence from Nets star Kevin Durant, who forged a relationship with him while in Golden State, where Nash served as a player development consultant. Nash is revered as a basketball genius and his laid back, but competitive, demeanor should be able to mesh with Durant and Kyrie Irving, two players who have had well documented issues with coaches and other stars. The intriguing situation in Brooklyn will be even more scrutinized moving forward.
In more head coaching news, there have been reports that Ty Lue and the Philadelphia 76ers are close to coming to an agreement to make him the next head man in Philly. Chauncey Billups has also mentioned he could be interested in a coaching position after being in the running for a few front office jobs and being part of the Clippers broadcast crew over the last couple years.
Easy Win for Ja
To absolutely nobody’s surprise Ja Morant was awarded the NBA Rookie of the Year Award today. He received 99 of the 100 possible first-place votes, with the 100th vote going to Zion Williamson. I need answers on who voted for Zion. This marks the first Grizzlies player to win since Pau Gasol in 2001-02. Morant finished the season averaging 18.1 points, 7.3 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 0.9 steals per game. He was sixth-round worthy in 8-cat leagues and dropped all the way out of the top-130 in 9-cat as he was plagued by turnover issues all season. If he can cut down on the turnovers (3.4/game) and add a more consistent 3-point shot to his arsenal, he can start to work his way into the top-100 in 9-cat leagues.
TOR vs. BOS
As a franchise, the Celtics came Thursday night 39-1 in series that they hold a 2-0 lead in. Coupled with the fact no NBA team has ever come back from being down 3-0, it is safe to say Toronto needed the win tonight. I thought it might be another night where the referees stole the show when both teams were in the bonus within seven minutes of tip-off, but luckily the players were able to decide the outcome of the game on their own. With two of the top-four defenses in the NBA facing off, issues on the offensive end for either team cannot be too surprising, but things were starting to turn worrisome Up North. Shooting struggles severely hampered the Raptors in the first two games and Toronto fans were worried Game 3 was going to have the same result, as the Raps came out of the gate shooting 5-22 from deep in the first half. Boston took a 10-point lead into the break, led by 17 points from Kemba Walker and 10 each from Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Kyle Lowry was the high man for Toronto, dropping 15 points, all of which came from within the paint or at the line. Pascal Siakam continued to be a shell of himself scoring only two points on two field goal attempts, as he dealt with foul trouble for the first two quarters. Nick Nurse came out of the locker room and made it a point to get Siakam going early in the second half. The first two plays of the half were run for him and he ended up getting up seven attempts within the first few minutes. Siakam showing signs of life, and the Raptors switch to a zone on defense stifled Boston and helped Toronto cut the lead to one late in the third quarter. Toronto’s zone forced Boston and Brad Stevens to make adjustments offensively and knocked the C’s out of rhythm, allowing the Raptors to push the pace and create in transition, a role where they thrived in the regular season, leading the league in fast break points. The zone also forced Stevens into the questionable decision of bringing Enes Kanter off the bench over Robert Williams, who had his first miss of the series in the first quarter. Kanter was able to get into the paint and score two easy buckets, but Toronto exploited his defensive flaws and put him in pick-and-roll situations what seemed like every possession in his four minutes of play. Toronto grabbed the lead back for a few quick seconds before relinquishing it back to Boston who rolled into the fourth quarter with an 80-76 lead. Toronto went on another quick run to start a quarter, carried by back-to-back Fred VanVleet threes. Walker quickly answered with an old-fashioned three-point play to knot the score at 83 and it was officially game on. It was mostly back-and-forth down the stretch, capped off by a wild sequence to finish the game out. VanVleet got into the paint and got an acrobatic reverse lay-up to fall to square it up at 101 apiece. A tie game with the shot clock turned off, we all knew it was Cardiac Kemba time. While we were all waiting on a deadly step-back to close the game out, Kemba eluded a trap, snaked through the defense and dropped a no-look dime to Daniel Theis for an easy dunk with 0.5 seconds left on the game clock. After a timeout, the Raptors came out with a play set for VanVleet or Siakam to get the last shot, and although FVV did seem to get open for a split-second, an uncharacteristic defensive miscommunication left OG Anunoby wide open in the far corner for the game winning three. How the in bounder, Lowry, even saw OG let alone actually complete the pass with seven-foot, six-inch Tacko Fall in his face, is more remarkable than the shot itself. Lowry ended the game with 31 points and eight assists while VanVleet added 25 points and six dimes. The Raptors long range shooting picked up in the second half and they were able to knock down 8 of their 18 attempts, a streak they will hope to continue. Outside of Walker, who finished with 29 points on 9-16 shooting, the rest of the Celtics could not get it going on offense. Tatum had 15 points, nine rebounds and six assists but only shot 5-18 from the field. Brown had his normal stat-stuffer game, with 19 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks and two assists, including being the catalyst behind keeping Siakam in check. Toronto can refrain from packing their bags for a few more days now that they are once again alive in the series heading into Saturday’s Game 4.
DEN vs. LAC
I take back what I said earlier about the quality of play rising. This game was a dominated by Los Angeles and Denver never stood a chance. Just two days removed from finishing off a seven-game battle with Utah, where they looked visibly gassed, Denver was forced to take on the title-favorite Clippers in Game 1 of their West Semifinals match up. Denver held tough for the first 12 minutes as the first quarter ended with the score level at 31. Things went downhill shortly after and Los Angeles built a 69-51 halftime lead. The heavy legs set in for Denver after halftime when they could only muster 46 points before eventually losing 120-97. Patrick Beverly returned to the lineup, marking only the 13th time this season the Clippers have played at full strength. It was a well-rounded effort from the Clips who got 42 points off the bench lead by 15 from Montrezl Harrell. There was not much to this one, we had an already overmatched Denver team shoot only 25% from deep while getting outscored in the paint by 26 points. For as much talent as Denver has offensively, Los Angeles has the capability to stop them on every level, and on the flipside, LA’s defensive stoppers Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, are also two of the top offensive players in the league. Denver’s top offensive threats are only that and do not provide anything on the other side of the floor, especially Nikola Jokic who needs to step up and make literally any effort on D if the Nuggets hope to have any chance to win a game in this series. Joker lead the way for Denver with 15 points and Murray added 12. Leonard had a game-high 29, George dropped 19 and Marcus Morris Sr. was on fire from beyond the arc, scoring 18 points on 4-5 shooting from deep. The Nuggets might as well fuel the jet now because they will be departing from Orlando within a week.